It began as soon as he stepped into the dusty streets of Shamaim: the rustle of voices all around him, the quivering sheen in the air—bodiless Grigori. In Shamaim, always, he could feel them. Katan was never sure if it was a blessing or a curse; blessing, because it somewhat soothed his loneliness to be among his kind; curse, because survivor’s guilt is nothing to the guilt of the only one to live in the first place.
They flocked after him, hands that were no more than breaths of air scrabbling at his face, wings of breezes grazing his neck. Perhaps they remembered him. Katan stirred the shimmer in the air with one finger. To his left the shadows thrown by crumbling ruins rippled gently, impossibly, and Katan blinked to cast aside the fragments of memories that smiled from the shadows. A voice, murmuring, This is reality. Like you, it is alive.
Shamaim’s reality was hardly alive, though. Katan stood in the middle of a ghost town. As he walked the children cast him wary looks; years of visits weren’t enough to calm their fears at the sight of a Cherubim. He was damned by his height, his flawless appearance, his eyes, the coat that swirled around his ankles. Not only that, he reminded himself.
A slight movement drew his attention and he saw a small hand jerk out of his pocket, a white-haired boy run from him shouting with panicked laughter. The child went empty-handed: Katan knew better than to carry anything valuable with him. He put a hand to his pocket with a rueful smile.
A pint-sized girl with massive eyes and a bloodstained mouth gazed serenely at him from the box she sat in. She smiled when he noticed her, and waved, with an air of familiarity, though Katan was sure he’d never seen her before.
More children stared at him from cracked windows and gaping walls. For a moment Katan met their eyes, red eyes shadowed with hunger and exhaustion. A scraggly blonde stuck her tongue out, and Katan moved on. Uncivilized brats, through no fault of their own.
Their existence was illegal, though, and Katan continued to file reports of Aeons living in Shamaim. No one ever did anything about it; there was, he thought, nothing to do. Katan knew that they were killed, but sporadically; never enough to rid the lowest layer Heaven of them entirely. And while no one ever bothered to follow up on the reports and exterminate all of the children, he still felt like a betrayer. He’d been like them once. Invisible. Punished for the sins of his ancestors.
An Aeon tore past him, a child, pale as a rabbit and red-eyed like the rest of them. Behind her ran a pack of older boys, these children healthily pink and topped with richly gold hair. Their eyes, Katan noticed, were blue. He turned to watch, frowning and unnoticed.
"Rabbit!" shrieked one of the boys. "Filthy little rabbit!"
The girl spun to face him, crouching low like a cat and curling her lips threateningly. The boys jeered. "Get her, Yrouel!" one shouted. They fanned out around the child, laughing raucously.
Katan’s heartbeat quickened. Still, he only watched while Yrouel lunged for the girl and caught her white hair. She screamed, kicked, clawed at his arms, red eyes mad with fear. Yrouel’s comrades seized her arms while he tore at her clothing.
Terrified, the girl spread her wings, and Katan forgot to breath for a moment when he saw the featherless bones spring from her shoulders. The boys’ reactions were noisier. "Gross!" said one, his lips parting in curious surprise. "Like a skeleton—"
"Let go," the girl snarled, teeth bared, but the boys only laughed again, and one said,
"At least this way you’re of some use. Dirty little rabbit . . ."
She fought crazily, but she was outnumbered by older, stronger, well-fed angels. Katan felt light-headed. He licked his lips, and said in a cracked whisper, "Stop it."
They didn’t hear him. The boys held her down while Yrouel fumbled with his belt, and Katan cleared his throat, shouted, "Stop it!"
Immediately the boys whipped around to stare at him. Katan tried to draw himself up, but his heart was beating too rapidly, and he thought he saw static. "What are you doing down here?" he demanded. His voice was unsteady. Could they tell? "Get back to your squad, now."
"Make us," said one of the boys, but the others elbowed him, giggling, and after a moment of nervous, smirking stares they turned en masse to flee laughing down the silent street.
Katan refused to look at the little girl, but he heard her scramble to her feet and take a few steps toward him. After a few moments of uneasy silent she changed her mind and fled. Her bare feet pattered against the dust.
He felt sick. He thought he heard the keening of a dying Grigori in the back of his mind; another insignificant spirit killed for some stupid task. The air was heavy with fading phantoms, with despair, with poverty, with death.
Katan had escaped, alone.
"I’m sorry," he said aloud, and he thought he heard voices whisper, No, you’re not.
Later he remembered sunlight on his hair—his hair!—and soft air against his skin, sun-dappled green bright in his eyes. He remembered Rosiel's face: androgynous, luminous, surrounded by a mass of silvery hair. At first he had thought the face was God, and that first rush of conviction never quite left him. It was a kind face, a lovely, noble face, and even though Rosiel demonstrated over and over again that the beauty was nothing more than a veneer, Katan remembered that vision.
Katan had Rosiel’s silvery hair, and his beauty, and his flesh and blood. Rosiel had given him that first touch of sunlight, and everything since then. And Katan had betrayed Rosiel, too, by leaving him locked in the Earth.
There was a debt to be paid, and truth to be told, he needed Rosiel. Heaven needed Rosiel. Katan remembered the boys circling like wolves, the pale child with her wide ruby eyes, and wondered if he should have brought the girl back with him. It would give a nice symmetry to his life. Given a body and a life by Rosiel, he could give another child life—but she’d run from him, and he didn’t want the responsibility.
The face beckoned to him: gentle, holy, pure. Rosiel could salvage Heaven. Willingly Katan forgot the mad smile that had crossed Rosiel’s face all too often in the time before he was sealed. Willingly he forgot everything cruel and lonely and seductive and insane that he’d seen in Rosiel’s eyes, and unbidden that first vision flickered in his memory.
He wondered what to do, and thought of wires.
Setting it up was simple. He’d been created by the Inorganic Angel; Katan had technology in his blood. He designed the computer program with ease, writing code as naturally as he wrote Hebrew and Enochian, and made the necessary connections and incantations. Grimly, he calculated how much power the deaths of his victims would generate. Not enough, but the whole of Tokyo would yield enough power. The children would serve as a key.
He found it pathetically easy to snag them. Lonely children long to feel special and loved; they adored the secret friends who whispered promises to them. Katan was embarrassed by the similarities to his own lonely childhood dreams.
When the first blood was spilled, Katan was surprised at his own lack of horror. It was a human child, but though her hair was black and her eyes dark brown, he was reminded of the rabbit girl. His computer program worked beautifully, and her blood was followed by that of countless more, children all.
But it was for the greater good, he reminded himself. For the righteousness of Heaven.
An eternity later, as Rosiel forced the pill between his teeth, Katan remembered silently watching angels surround a red-eyed child, remembered sacrificial blood trickling down the wires, and he decided that the pill was not such a very big deal after all, because he’d already become a monster.
He closed his eyes, and remembered sunlight.